Category: sean-williams - Part 2

Underground Nile Delta City is Ancient Hyksos Capital of Avaris, say Experts

An underground city discovered in the Nile Delta is the Hyksos capital city of Avaris, says Egypt’s Minister of Culture. Farouk Hosni made the claim to Chinese news agency Xinhua in the wake of the discovery at Tell El-Dab’a, in the Delta’s north eastern limits, by an Austrian archaeological team.

SCA Chief Zahi Hawass says radar imaging at the site shows the outlines of streets, temples and houses of the long-lost city, which became the capital of Egypt between 1664 and 1569 BC. (explore the image)

Austrian team leader Irene Mueller says a Nile river tributary which passed through the city, two buried islands, a port and different sized wells are also among the findings.

Avaris was the principle city of the Hyksos, a rebel Asiatic people who invaded Egypt during the Second Intermediate Period. They never extended their empire into Upper Egypt, however, which remained in the hands of Theban Egyptian rulers.

The discovery follows years of underwater exploration at Alexandria and Taposiris Magna(watch a video here) in the hunt for the palace and tomb of Cleopatra. An exhibition of Cleopatra’s relics is currently on show at Philadelphia’s Franklin Instituteclick here for a slideshow and artefact details.

25ft Steel Ancestor Celebrates Solstice at Stonehenge

Stonehenge summer solstice 2010 is to be marked by the debut of a 25ft-high steel statue. ‘The Ancestor’, created by local sculptors Andrew Rowlings and Michelle Topps with help from Druids and the local community, will sit 70m from the stone circle and provide an alternative focus of revelry and worship at sunrise, easing congestion within Stonehenge itself.

The Ancestor is as tall as a double-decker bus, and weights a huge seven tons. It has been shrouded in secrecy until today to prevent a further swell of people visiting the already overcrowded event in Wiltshire, which tonight is thought to top the 40,000 mark. Local schools, as well as Cub Scout and Brownie groups have been hard at work on the project, which supposedly represents the spirituality of the ancient people who created Stonehenge with nothing but primitive tools (watch a video about how we’ve had Stonehenge wrong for centuries here).

“We hope that all those at summer solstice will be inspired by the ancestor.”

The result is spectacular. The Ancestor kneels prostrate, his arms outstretched and wearing a Celtic crown. His Easter Island gaze looks upwards at the sun, as thousands will do in approximately five hours’ time (here are some people to look out for at the event). “(The Ancestor) might stand to remind us all that we owe much to our ancestors and might try to be more like them in appreciation of the natural beauty around us,” says Stonehenge Druid Frank Somers.

The statue will be seen as a massive coup for Stonehenge’s pagan community, who have traditionally struggled to have their voices heard over a number of issues – not least the reburial of ‘Charlie’, an ancient child found at nearby Avebury.

“We hope that all those who gather at Stonehenge for summer solstice this year will be inspired by the ancestor,” adds Somers, “and that the ancestors themselves would approve of the way we are honouring them.”

You can see pictures, tweets and trading cards (yes, really!) from Stonehenge live by checking out Ann’s blog, where there’ll no doubt be pictures of the Ancestor as he takes his Stonehenge bow. If you are at the stones now you may want to take a look at this handy guide to get you through the night.

You can also check out this list of alternative places to see in the midsummer sun. Don’t forget that you can also catch the summer solstice at Stonehenge Virtual.

Roman Villa and Saxon Minster Discovered in Gloucestershire

The remains were discovered just hours before the trench was due to be filled back up. Image Credit - Tim Davies.

Evidence of an imperial Roman villa has been discovered in Gloucestershire, England – just hours before archaeologists were due to fill its trench back up. The remains, a large quantity of Roman wall plaster, were found last Friday (June 11) as a Bristol University team led by TV archaeologists Dr Stuart Prior and Prof Mark Horton were winding up work at the site, which has already offered proof of Saxon settlement.

The remains, in the grounds of Berkeley’s Edward Jenner Museum, also include Roman coins and roof tiles. The villa is likely to date from the 3rd or 4th century AD, and could even be an imperial settlement of Romans from nearby Gloucester. The last-ditch Roman relics were discovered after the team had already found evidence of extensive religious activity during the Anglo-Saxon period, around the 9th or 10th century.

“In the closing moments of the dig we found the best evidence yet that a Roman villa lay under Berkeley, probably under the church,” Prof Horton, a presenter on BBC series Coast, tells the Gloucestershire Gazette. “We are lucky that on this site the soil is clay because it preserves things beautifully so we have had some finds in very good condition.”

“This is a really exciting find.”

Horton and Prior believe the Saxon settlement may have been a minster, a walled religious community, where high status women lived. Saxon artefacts at the site include a belt-strap with the face of a dragon, and a road leading to nearby St. Mary’s Church.

However it is the team’s last-ditch Roman discovery which will keep them coming back to Berkeley. “This is a really exciting find,” says Dr Prior. “We will come back next year to Berkeley because there is definitely more Roman finds waiting to be discovered.”

Prof Horton isn’t the only TV expert making waves in the archaeological world this week. Tony Robinson, presenter of lonstanding archaeology show Time Team, has been singing the praises of Scotland’s ancient heritage. A recent Time Team special uncovered several secrets surrounding Stonehenge, Britain’s best-loved ancient landmark.

New Stonehenge Visitor Centre Scrapped

The ‘sustainable and affordable’ new Stonehenge visitor centre has been scrapped, because the government can’t afford it. The 25m ($37m) project, which was given the go-ahead in January by then-Culture Secretary Andy Burnham, has been axed after a review of all government spending decisions made since the beginning of the year.

The news will come as a huge shock to English Heritage, owners of Stonehenge, and local and national tourism firms, who have hoped the new centre, 1.5 miles away from the stone circle, could make Stonehenge a more attractive proposal. The timing of the move seems particularly bad with millions set to flock to England ahead of the 2012 London Olympics.

The plan comprised two single-storey buildings with exhibition space, a caf and toilet facilities, joining Stonehenge via a transit system. The controversial A344 main road, which runs just feet from the ancient landmark, was scheduled to be grassed over, with Wiltshire Council seeking a Traffic Regulation Order to limit the number of vehicles passing by.

The scrapping will come as welcome news for one governmental design watchdog, who last year branded the plans ‘twee’ and ‘more appropriate for an urban garden.’ Yet it is widely accepted that Stonehenge’s current facilities are woefully outdated, with little more than a coffee and a car parking space available. The news won’t, however, stop 40,000 people flood to the stones for this weekend’s summer solstice. Click here for a guide to the event, or here to view alternative places to see in the midsummer sun aside from Stonehenge Virtual.

Reimagining Stonehenge – Rejecting the Three Phases

The three phases of Stonehenge? Wrong. In fact you can throw your three phases out the window – it just doesn’t work any more. “We were wrong about Stonehenge,” says anthropologist Mary-Ann Craig during today’s HKTV live lecture. “(Three phases) doesn’t explain it properly: we need phase 3.1; 3.2 and then 3.2b, it doesn’t seem to work.”

Mary-Ann’s lecture on the history of Stonehenge and the mystery of stone circles was an instant hit with the HK office, and our many viewers online. Personally I was fascinated by the idea that Bluestonehenge, a stone circle discovered just last year, may have been a place for women – whose remains have never been confirmed at Stonehenge. Mary-Ann points to the myriad modern religious links between rivers, fertility and femininity. “It’s possible (women) were cremated and instead of their ashes being buried at the stone structure, they were thrown into the river.”

Watch live streaming video from rezzable at

I also found amazing the idea that Stonehenge could have been made to segregate society, rather than embrace the wider community: “Neolithic farmers weren’t being quite so nomadic,” says Mary-Ann. “They were carving up territory. The monuments say, ‘you’re one of us,’ and ‘you’re not.'”

View video highlights alongside times here

The lecture came in two short halves – both of which you can see right here – where Mary-Ann not only talks on radical new ideas about Stonehenge but shows you examples of groundbreaking archaeology in Heritage Key’s very own Stonehenge Virtual – check out the screenshot above. And with the summer solstice coming up don’t forget you can see it from your own home just by logging on. What do you think about Mary-Ann’s theories?

Watch live streaming video from rezzable at


At the end of the lecture Mary-Ann took some of your questions which were flying in via Twitter. Skip to video highlights here.

Ellie asked:”What’s the difference between an anthropologist and an archaeologist?”

Mary-Ann: “Anthropology is the study of people…archaeology is the material culture of human beings.”

Behave1223: “Was Stonehenge a kind of castle?”

Mary-Ann: “No, I wouldn’t say it was fortified, it’s not like an Iron Age hillfort. This is more about sacred realms, rituals and non-human power. So not a castle, but definitely a structure that harnesses power.”

Jack_Curly: “How big do you think the society of Stonehenge was?”

Mary-Ann: “In the Mesolithic they were probably in groups of around a hundred, then Neolithic you start to build bigger communities – maybe 10,000 in the area?”

Video Highlights

Video 1:

6m00s: How the three phases of Stonehenge can’t work.

10m40s: The first Stonehenge structure was actually a stone structure.

18m00s: Did Bluestonehenge belong to women?

20m00s: The mystery of the Marlborough sarsens.

Video 2:

3m20s: Mesolithic living wasn’t much fun

7m00s: Avebury, Sanctuary et al – made to keep the neighbours out?

8m00s: Banks and ditches – how Stonehenge kept in its occupants.

Summer solstice is just days away: how will you celebrate? If you’re planning on visiting Stonehenge then make sure you check out Ann’s vital guide. If you can’t make it to Wiltshire then take a look at these alternatives. And keep checking into HKTV: we’ll have our next live lecture this Friday!

British Home-made ‘Stonehenge’ is a Load of Rubbish

Bryan Raines has created his own version of Stonehenge using fly-tipped rubbish. Image Credit - Steve W.

There may be many alternatives to Stonehenge this summer solstice, but one British man is proud his stone circle is complete rubbish. Bryan Raines, of Awbridge, Hampshire, has been creating his ‘Millennium Circle’ since 2000 entirely from waste fly-tipped on his land.

Bryan’s 24-stone circle surrounds a soil barrow, and he even believes it is located on a ley line – a mystical line linking ancient monuments. Yet the power of the ley line hasn’t saved Bryan’s landmark from some altogether less mystical interlopers. “Some of the stones are between five and six feet high, but unfortunately cows keep knocking them over.

“I’ve ended up with a sort-of 24-hour sundial,” Bryan tells the Romsey Advertiser. “It’s a good 50 metres across. I’m quite proud of it, actually. I have had quite a few people who were surprised about it.”

“Unfortunately cows keep knocking the stones over.”

The circle began life a decade ago, when 55-year-old Bryan decided to put rubbish dumped in his field to use. “I was in the process of collecting builder’s rubbish that I had accumulated,” he says, “and I thought I would use it for a stone circle.” Bryan believes the landmark lies on an ancient line running from the Isle of Man to the Isle of Wight.

Ley lines were first suggested in 1921 by amateur archaeologist Alfred Watkins in his book The Old Straight Track. Watkins’ theory claims that straight lines linking megaliths like Stonehenge resonate mystic energy. This weekend thousands of pagans and revellers will head to ancient sites around Britain to celebrate the summer solstice. Find out how to do things the right way at Stonehenge with a look at Ann’s special guide. Don’t forget you can see Stonehenge from your own home with Heritage Key’s Stonehenge Virtual.

‘Bottomless Pit’ of Ancient Cult Vessels Discovered in Israel

A massive haul of ancient cultic vessels dating back over 3,500 years has been discovered in Israel. The find, made ahead of gas pipe works at the base of Tell Qashish, near Tishbi Junction, has been described as a ‘bottomless pit’ of artefacts, and contains over a hundred intact objects – almost unheard of in archaeological circles.

The find includes incense-burning vessels, a sculpted woman’s face – seen in the picture below – and various items of tableware. Experts from the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) who made the find believe the artefacts were part of an ancient pagan cult which was wiped out during the Bronze Age.

“In this period, before the Bible, the children of Israel were still in Egypt or the desert,” says lead digger Uzi Ad.

“The vessels were used in a pagan cult that worshipped idols.”

“It would appear that the vessels were used in a pagan cult that worshipped idols,” Ad continues. “During this period it was customary that each city had a temple of its own where special cultic vessels were used.”

One theory for their hidden location is that the vessels had been buried to protect them from their town’s impending destruction. Another is that they were allowed special treatment simply due to their high religious status.

Ad and colleague Dr Edwin van den Brink are amazed at the discovery – not least because the rock cavity in which it was made appeared to continue forever: each time the team reached the foot of one cavity another appeared featuring another set of items. Some had even been imported from Mycenae in Greece, known for its stunning vases.

The IAA plans to showcase the discovery at an exhibition later this year. The location of the show is unknown as yet.

The find is a welcome high note for Israeli archaeology, whose work threatens to be overshadowed by ongoing rows over excavations at Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

‘Duckfretete’ Nefertiti Invades Germany

Duckomenta - A quack to far?We’re all strangely used to Donald Duck wearing nothing but a sailor’s shirt (it’d get him an ASBO these days), but what about Walt Disney’s second most famous creation as Queen Nefertiti, or the Mona Lisa? Or, if the site of a cross-dressing Donald shatters your childhood memories, how about Duckbert Einstein, or Duck Guevara?

Duckomenta is one of this year’s stranger exhibitions. Taking Donald as their launchpad, artist cliqu InterDuck (that’s right) have recreated a plethora of famous pieces of art with the rasp-tongued mallard as star. But while the show, which visits Hildesheim’s Roemer-und-Pelizaeus Museum (in hot water with SCA chief Zahi Hawass over its display of the Statue of Hemiunu) from September until next May (2011), has plenty of great takes on famous historical paintings, our favourite has to be ‘Duckfretete’, Donald’s turn as the Bust of Nefertiti.

Dr Hawass may be the only person on the planet not to see the show’s funny side, as he continues his uphill struggle to repatriate the bust from Berlin’s Neues Museum. But InterDuck (no, really) will hardly care: their creations have been enjoyed by over a million people since 1984.

Donald Fauntleroy Duck is no stranger to ancient Egypt. An episode of the Duck Tales series saw his family travel to see the pyramids, Sphinx et al, while I hope the video below will reacquaint you with one of the best games ever made for the Mega Drive (or Genesis for those of you across the pond). That cheesy 8-bit music and Arabesqe meanies are vital to the plot and in no way stereotyping Egyptians, honest.

Duckomenta runs at the Roemer-und-Pelizaeus Museum from September 11 to May 1. If you’ve seen the show, let us know what you think in the comments below!

‘World’s Only Well-Preserved Gladiator Cemetery’ Discovered in York

Above York

Around 80 gladiators have been discovered in what experts are calling the world’s only well-preserved gladiator cemetery, in the northern British town of York. The grisly find, made ahead of modern building works since 2004, includes the skeletons of men who had been killed with swords, axes and hammers – and one who had been bitten by a tiger.

Other telltale signs the 1st-3rd century AD men were gladiators are their arm asymmetry, testament to years of training with heavy weapons, and seemingly ritual decapitation. Though most losing gladiators were killed by a stab to the throat, the practice may have been due to some prevailing local custom. Burial items are sparse, but one 18-23-year-old man had been laid to rest with the remains of four horses and pig and cow bones.

Archaeologist Kurt Hunter-Mann of the York Archaeological Trust believes the dig’s evidence is pointing in one direction. “At present our lead theory is that many of these skeletons are those of Roman gladiators,” he says. “So far there are a number of pieces of evidence which point towards that interpretation or are consistent with it. But the research is continuing and we must therefore keep an open mind.

“It’s unlikely this individual was attacked by a tiger as he was walking home from the pub.”

“We could see that in quite a few cases the skulls had been chopped with some kind of heavy bladed weapon, a sword or in one or two cases an axe,” Hunter-Mann adds. “But they were buried with a degree of care. There are no mass pits. Most of them are buried individually.

“Other important pieces of evidence include a high incidence of substantial arm asymmetry – a feature mentioned in ancient Roman literature in connection with a gladiator; some healed and unhealed weapon injuries; possible hammer blows to the head – a feature attested as a probable gladiatorial coup de grace at another gladiator cemetery, Ephesus, in Turkey.”

Forensic anthropology expert Dr Michael Wysocki claims the most striking evidence is a series of bite marks suffered by one of the men. “The presence of bite marks is one of the strongest pieces of evidence suggesting an arena connection. It would seem highly unlikely this individual was attacked by a tiger as he was walking home from the pub in York 2,000 years ago.”

The find will fuel speculation as to the location of York’s Roman amphitheatre. Gladiator arenas have been discovered in several other major Roman cities in Britain such as London and Chester (watch a video on London’s Roman amphitheatre here). York, named Eboracum, was established by the Romans in 71AD, and boasts Roman baths and walls. Experts speculate it was once an upper-class Roman residence, and it is also home to the popular Jorvik Viking Centre. But Dr Wysocki believes this could be York’s biggest ancient coup to date: “These are internationally important discoveries. We dont have any other potential gladiator cemeteries with this level of preservation anywhere else in the world.”

The discovery will feature in forthcoming Channel 4 documentary Gladiators: Back from the Dead, which airs in the UK next Monday (14 June).

Cleopatra: The Search for the Last Queen of Egypt Opens at Franklin Institute, Philadelphia

Philadelphia's Franklin Institute plays host to the world premiere of Cleopatra: The Search for the Last Queen of Egypt this weekend. Image Copyright - Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation, photo: Jerome Delafosse.Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute plays host to the world premiere of Cleopatra: The Search for the Last Queen of Egypt this Saturday (June 5). The exhibition, which runs until January 2 2011, promises to be a spectacular affair, combining over 150 artefacts relating to the famous queen, and visits the archaeology that is unearthing her amazing world day by day (click here for an interview with the Institute’s Troy Collins).

The show is organised by National Geographic, the same brains behind the Terracotta Warriors’ recent trip across North America. The exhibition’s showcase treasures include statues, jewellery and everyday items from Cleopatra’s fateful reign – here’s a quick list of the top artefacts:

Colossus of a Ptolemaic King: This huge red granite statue weighs in at 5.5 tons, and reaches a height of 16.5ft. The king in whose image it was created is unknown.

Colossal Head of Caesarion: Another large granite artefact, this time representing Caesarion, Cleopatra’s son who ruled with her from 44-30 BC. It is part of a statue which would have reached around 16ft in height.

Statue of a Ptolemaic Queen: this spooky statue is thought to represent either Cleopatra II or III, both of whom ruled Egypt during the mid-2nd century BC. Her most intriguing feature is her highly detailed hair, on which sits a diadem, or crown, emblazoned with the uraeus snake, symbol of Egypt. It’s one of many ancient treasures that have been pulled from the Bay of Aboukir, where Franck Goddio claims to have discovered the royal palace of Cleopatra.

Papyrus signed by Cleopatra:Click to open slideshow of images from Cleopatra: The Search for the Last Queen of Egypt.For me this seems the exhibition’s most fascinating artefact. For while the show’s other pieces are draped in grandeur and artistic splendour, this seemingly uninspiring tax exemption form was signed by none other than Cleopatra herself, apparently as a gesture of goodwill towards her Roman lover Mark Antony. Not only is it a glimpse into Cleopatra’s life, it’s also a rare insight into the daily bureaucracy of the ancient world.

Click To Watch Video
Search for the Tomb of Cleopatra (Featuring Dr. Kathleen Martinez)
Dr Kathleen Martinez, a young archaeologist from the Dominican Republic, has been excavating a site in Giza in the search for the tomb of Cleopatra.

The exhibition’s artefacts may be spectacular enough, but just as intriguing is its collection of information and relics from the two highest-profile digs going on in search of Cleopatra. One is going on at Taposiris Magna, 30 miles west of Alexandria, led by Dominican archaeologist Kathleen Martinez(watch a video of the dig here).

The team is funded by Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities. Its chief, Dr Zahi Hawass, says the show gives a glimpse into the life of one of the world’s greatest characters. “This exhibition will give the American people the chance to learn about our search for Cleopatra, and will share with them the magic of this fascinating queen.”

Franck Goddio’s longstanding underwater search for Cleopatra will also be featured in the exhibition. Since 1992 Goddio and his team have been scouring the Mediterranean for remnants of the queen, and believe they have located her royal palace (click here for a list of the world’s top ten underwater cities). “We are delighted to present our underwater archaeological acheivements and discoveries…to the American public,” says Goddio.

Cleopatra (69-30 BC) was the last ruler of Egypt before it was taken by the Romans. Known as one of her era’s most beautiful women she won the hearts of two of Rome’s most powerful men – Julius Caesar and Mark Antony – before committing suicide when Egypt was finally lost. Following her death the Romans wiped out any trace of Cleopatra, making her one of the ancient world’s most enigmatic rulers.